Past Forward

ABC Open Archives on Pool

Through ABC Pool, I’ve been working to publish a number of the archival recordings featured on Sydney Sidetracks through an open access Creative Commons licence. That means they are now available for re-use and remix. The project is starting with the Sydney collection, but will be expanding to include other cities very soon.

The project has featured on the ABC’s social media website Pool. It launched on January 2011 and has since seen the release of a number of additional ABC TV & Radio Archives items into the public domain.

An example of some of the items I have cleared through this project include:

VP Day 1945

Voices

Through this project I cleared a number of voice recordings of infamous Sydney-siders, including the gunman Chow Hayes, the activist Juanita Nielsen and the colourful lady-about-town Bea Miles.

Living on the Fringe

As part of this ABC Pool project I conducted an interview with the director, Gian Carlo Manara, and undertook further research into the ABC’s document archives to uncover some of the unwanted press associated with the release of this once controversial documentary.

Q&A With GianCarlo Manara, Director of Living on the Fringe
Creative Commons License: Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives

GianCarlo Manara, director of the ABC’s 1963 documentary Living on the Fringe, shares some of his memories about the film with Sarah Barns.

SB: What opportunities were there for documentary makers working in Australia at this time? How important was the ABC in supporting documentary production?

GM: At the time we made Living on the Fringe, there weren’t so many opportunities for the few people with sufficient professional skill to make documentaries. The ABC was one of the first institutions to offer that chance, through programs like Big Country.

SB: Was this a difficult film to make within the ABC at this time?

GM: Documentaries like this weren’t very common. It was Allan Ashbolt in the Talks Dept who wanted to use television to make more political documentaries like this one. We worked together on Four Corners – our association grew from there.

SB: What inspiration did you draw from when making this film? (for example, Italian neo-realist films etc).

GM: I graduated in Film Direction and Scriptwriting in Italy in 1955. We all in the school were the products of Italian neo-realism. I personally have been also influenced by other filmmakers such as Grierson, Rota, and Cavalanti.

SB: Did your own migrant story influence this film in any way?

GM: No, I was not influenced by my migrant experience, but by the stark reality of the life of the neglected and the poor. The the media at the time always preferred to ignore this.

SB: How did people on the streets of Sydney react to your filming of them?

GM: Filming in the streets at that time was still a novelty. I often used a “candid camera” approach to catch reality. An exception was when I asked my sexy friend Diana Roberts, now the well know writer Di Morrisey, to walk around some streets in East Sydney. At this time many Italians and Maltese migrants used to hang around on Sunday morning. Migrants at the time were very lonely â?? no social life and above all no women! The “Latin Lover” was not yet a trendy image!

SB: What did you hope audiences would learn from Living on the Fringe?

GM: My hope was for the average viewer to understand that Australia was not just the land of milk and honey – that here, just like other part of the world, there were people in need.

SB: Do you think Sydney is a better city today than it was when Living on the Film was made?

GM: Is Sydney a better place today? It is a big question. It is certainly different – there is more social awareness in the area of welfare and help. Of course lifestyles are also very different. Is it better? If I look back at the Sydney of this time I see a child, and today I see an adult. But is the adult of today better than the child of yesterday? It is a big question… I often think about it, about the old beach carnival when the Life Savers were marching like soldiers, when the girls were wearing petticoats and Saturday night was the night of dance at the Trocadero! All gone! However the girls are still beautiful, and the Life Savers are still so important and so Australian!

But one thing is for sure: the “greed” that today is often rampant was not so much at the time, even if everyone of course attempted to make some â??quidsâ??!

The BLF Green Bans

Picture 25

Sydney Sidetracks

Sydney Sidetracks is a multi-platform initiative supported by ABC Innovation to explore the distribution of the ABCâ??s audio-visual archive using map and mobile interfaces. The site was launched in November 2008, featuring over 50 stories about Sydney, which represent â??points of interestâ?? on a map that users can explore either online or out and about in Sydney using their mobile phone.

You can read an interview with me by Seb Chan of the Powerhouse Museum here.

I’ve also reflected on some of the highlights of the Sidetracks collection here.

In 2009 Sydney Sidetracks was awarded Best Cross-Media Content project in the ABC’s Digital Innovation Awards.

Sidetracks collection – highlights

RADIO WAVES

VP DAY 1945: Talbot Duckmanton recording the crowds celebrating VP Day, 1945 in Martin Place.

Reproduced courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

Reproduced courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

While the NFSA has some interesting film footage of these moments, the sound quality is poor. It’s also owned by Cinesound and so re-publishing has some rights limitations. But more importantly, the commentary provided in this piece by Duckmanton to his radio listeners is fascinating, full of great little details about the man on Pitt St directing traffic (he wasn’t, that day), the effigy of Hitler being hung from a building in Martin Place (which one?), the ladies dancing in the street (“fine-looking ladies, too”) and bringing to our attention the sounds of the mosquito flying overhead. It really is like being there, listening in. Thanks very much to John Spence for locating this special recording for me.

Listen in to VP Day, 1945

ROBERT MENZIES AT THE SYDNEY STADIUM

Radio may not have been new in 1948, but a recording of then Prime Minister Robert Menzies being heckled by communists at the Sydney Stadium is one of the oldest radio recordings I could locate in the ABC Archives. You can hear it in the audio ‘Old Tin Shed’ that features as part of the Sydney Stadium selection. Also worth a mention here is a link to 1908 footage of boxing legend Jack Johnson training for his fight against Canadian Tommy Burns, in which he became Heavyweight Champion of the World – the first African American to win that title.

Burns vs Johnson fight, 1908. Image reproduced courtesy of the State Library of NSW

Burns vs Johnson fight, 1908. Image reproduced courtesy of the State Library of NSW

MOVING IMAGE

GEORGE ST 1906

Nothing can really top the footage held in the collection of the National Film and Sound Archive taken from the front of a tram travelling down George St in 1906. It gives you an incredibly detailed view of the streetscape of the day, what the city streets were like before cars and before skyscrapers – the Queen Victoria Building is a huge behemoth in the distance. Thanks to the National Film and Sound Archives Centre for Scholarly and Archival Research for assistance with this piece.

STILL IMAGE

The image of the AMP building down at Circular Quay is striking in the way it shows how out of scale, how guargantuan these artefacts would have been at the time of the first skyscrapers.

Reproduced courtesy of the City of Sydney archives

Reproduced courtesy of the City of Sydney archives

DOCUMENTARY HIGHLIGHT: LIVING ON THE FRINGE

Another highlight is the footage from Living on the Fringe, an ABC documentary from 1965 that investigates life on the slum fringes of inner city Sydney, which at the time included places like Redfern, Surry Hills and Darlinghurst. Directed by Italian filmmaker Gian Carlo Manara. In evidence is not only the massive changes experienced to the social demographics of Sydney’s inner city, but also how styles of social commentary have changed as well. Its coverage of the indigenous populations of Redfern was too outrageous to include, I was sure it would provoke too many painful memories of what it would have liked living in the incredibly racist society that Australia was at that time.

The pieces selected for inclusion here include:

  • Redfern Community Life
  • A narration from the owner of one of the first Italian restaurants in Sydney at 181 Palmer St, East Sydney
  • Life ‘in the midst of darkness’ around Surry Hills, outside St. Francis church on Albion St

TV NEWS

There’s a lot of footage from ABC TV’s vault. The highlights are all from the long-running ABC documentary series This Day Tonight. A highlight is a TDT special on Sydney’s underground gambling scene as it was in 1973. There’s a nice illustrative recreation of the scenes in one of the clubs, and some funny footage of long-haired Stuart Littlemoore and Mike Carlton atop the ABC studios on William St, trying to catch some action at the notorious Forbes Club opposite them (when there wasn’t any…). Also worth viewing is the whole commentary on Juanita Nielsen’s disappearance, including a TDT feature from 1976, one year after her disappearance.

WHEN OLD TECHNOLOGIES WERE NEW…

FIRST TELEVISION BROADCAST

Television was introduced in Australia in 1956, after a 10-year delay during which time Australian policy makers carved out the most appropriate regulatory framework for this new, powerful medium. It just so happened that the first broadcast was beamed from Kellet St, just behind what is now the Coca-Cola building in Kings Cross (I’m told the streetscape was slightly different then to what it is now). Watch the ABC’s first television broadcast here.

'Outside Broadcast Van' outside Kellett St, Kings Cross c1958

Outside Broadcast Van on Kellett St, Kings Cross c1958

Remember when a mobile phone looked like a brick and if you talked into one everyone thought you were a wanker? Catch Michael Jay using one of those bricks to organise his ‘Carnival of the Minds’ rave at the then-abandoned Eveleigh Railyards in 1994.

But it’s not only media technologies that feature. Along with the George St tram footage, there is a wonderful selection of images featuring Sydney’s once-proud tram network, including a painting from the State Library collection of the first night the tram ran. Did you know that Sydney once boasted one of the largest tram networks in the world?

Trams down William St, Sydney c.1957. Reproduced courtesy of the City of Sydney archives

RADIO INTERVIEWS

CHOW HAYES

In 1990 Margaret Throsby interviewed Sydney’s most notorious gunman Chow Hayes following the release of David Hickie’s biography Chow Hayes: Gunman. Hayes speaks candidly to Throsby about his life of crime as the most feared man in all of Sydney. He must have been pretty old at the time but his mind was still strong – he recounts his first murder on Mary St, Surry Hills in impressive detail.

Juanita Nielsen outside her home at 202 Victoria St, Kings Cross, 1974. ABC Copyright.

Juanita Nielsen outside her home at 202 Victoria St, Kings Cross, 1974. ABC Copyright.

Juanita Nielsen is also featured here, speaking to the ABC in 1974, one year before her fatal disappearance in 1975. In this interview the wealthy hieress speaks about coming home from London, and her decision to move back to Kings Cross, the place she loved best of all. It was Nielsen’s passion for the Cross that ultimately cost her her life. The whole subject of the controversial Victoria St high-rise development is covered in detail at a number of locations on Victoria St, from Juanita’s house at 202, to Mick Fowler’s flat at 115 and outside the Victoria Heights building as well. Victoria Heights includes a wonderful full-length radio feature from Double J in 1977 produced by David Ives called ‘The Ballad of Victoria St’ (thanks Chris Winter!).

TALKING BUILDINGS

Mural of the BLF Green Bans, cnr Cathedral  and Forbes St Woolloomooloo

Mural of the BLF Green Bans, cnr Cathedral and Forbes St Woolloomooloo

There are a number of features that concentrate on Sydney’s built environment, and controversies surrounding certain developments around Sydney. Not everyone knows how significant Sydney’s BLF Green Bans were to the birth of urban environmental activism globally – people like Paul Ehrlich regarded the movement as a watershed in thinking about cities and their environmental as well as social implications. Along with the whole saga of Victoria St, you can listen in to The Rocks in 1973, when the BLF were holding up $300m of development all around Sydney, and watch footage of Woolloomooloo at the time as well. There’s an audio piece that includes actuality recording of the Hotel Australia being auctioned to the MLC Insurance company for $9.5m in 1968 (thanks to Wendy Borches for this find), as well as Mr LJ Hooker speaking about his development ambitions for the country in 1958. Developer greed is a bit of a theme here, obviously.

Listen here to a selection of audio archives about the Hotel Australia – once fine ‘Hotel of the Commonwealth’.

Some of the ‘Talking buildings’ here are iconic – the Sydney Opera House, for example, which includes video footage of Paul Robeson singing to construction workers at the site of the building in 1960. Other are less well known – 150-152 Elizabeth St is the first building to be heritage-listed for its significance to indigenous Australians as the site of the first Aboriginal Day of Mourning in 1937.

NIGHTS OUT

Rock and roll in Paddington in 1958 is pretty funny – this was when police first figured if they took the party to their place they’d save the local milk bar owners a few headaches, leading to the whole blue light disco scene eventually. Midnight Oil playing the Stage Door Tavern in 1979 is also a gem – the ABC’s Double J were there to record the whole show, and not only that but drummer Rob Hirst has also recalled his version of that notorious gig (thanks to Cath Dwyer for that tip).

RADIO DOCUMENTARIES

There are some wonderful, full-length radio documentaries from ABC Radio National’s archives included in the selection. I have edited some of these, basically to provide the opportunity for users to listen to excerpts on location, via the mobile application or downloaded directly to the ipod. Needless to say the full features are well worth a listen, and here’s your chance to dowload them too, if you missed it the first time aroud…

Of course, it’s not as though I haven’t trawled through a tonne of material to locate the many gems that feature on the site. I think it’s all pretty cool, really.

Contacts, comments, criticisms, suggestions, more stories…

Do contact the ABC with any comments or suggestions you have about the site and any of its material. And if you’ve got something you think you (or your grandparents!) can add – head straight to the Your Stories section.